It's only a matter of time before robots replace all jobs, right? Well, today they're coming for mine. Image: AP
The Associated Press announced this week that it will begin using automated software to write stories for 10,000 Minor League Baseball games not previously covered by the news organisation.
In order to get the stories written, the AP is working with technology company Automated Insights, which builds software capable of analysing data, deducing the most important information and turning deductions into readable stories.
Here's an example of a few paragraphs from a story about a Minor League Baseball game written by the software:
Cristian Alvarado tossed a one-hit shutout and Yermin Mercedes homered and had two hits, driving in two, as the Delmarva Shorebirds topped the Greensboro Grasshoppers 6-0 in the second game of a doubleheader on Wednesday.
Alvarado (6-4) struck out eight and walked one to pick up the win.
In the bottom of the first, Delmarva took the lead on a solo home run by Mercedes. The Shorebirds then added four runs in the third and a run in the fourth. In the third, Steve Laurino hit a two-run single, while Ricardo Andujar hit a solo home run in the fourth.
Now compare that to a story about the same game written by a human over at the official Delmarva Shorebirds website:
The Delmarva Shorebirds had their first big breakthrough of the second half by completing a doubleheader sweep against the Greensboro Grasshoppers on Wednesday night. The Shorebirds offence and pitching was on fire all night, as they captured Game 1 by a score of 8-1 before locking up Game 2 with a 6-0 victory behind Cristian Alvarado's complete game one-hitter.
Delmarva's (45-31, 3-4) offence got to work immediately in the bottom of the first of Game 1 when Natanael Delgado's single, coupled with an error by Isael Soto, brought home Cedric Mullins and Ryan Mountcastle to give the 'Birds a 2-0 advantage.
Although the human reporter uses slightly more colourful language, the stories actually convey the exact same amount of information. After reading either version of the story, it should be clear that the Delmarva Shorebirds crushed the Greensboro Grasshoppers in a shutout lead by star pitcher Critisan Alvarado. I would also add that I found it easier to read the story written by a robot. All the information was right up front. No fancy language — just the facts.
You might disagree, but honestly, it doesn't matter what you think. The Associated Press has been investing in this technology for a couple of years now, and it doesn't appear to be going anywhere anytime soon.
In July 2014, the news agency announced that it would begin using Automated Insights technology during earnings reports about US companies, and a year later, the news agency decided to use it to report NCAA game stories.
"With automation, we now follow and produce quarterly earnings reports for 4,000 companies," the agency's first news automation editor Justin Myers in a report from The Guardian. "Previously, we covered 400."
Some of the AP's biggest competitors have taken notice, too. Bloomberg's editor-in-chief John Micklethwait said earlier this year that he believes news automation is "crucial to the future of journalism". Bloomberg is currently using automation for news alerts, and the company is planning to expand the automation process to tasks like translation and earnings reports.
Both business and sports stories are particularly easy for software to parse because they're very formulaic. For earnings reports, the thrust an article is typically about whether a company's earnings have met analyst expectations. In sports, it's a question of what team scored more points. It's easy to imagine how software could quickly turn out a readable story using the most important numbers (either final score or revenue) given the right data.
So if you work in journalism and you want to keep your job, you'd better start writing some gold, because the robots are coming for your job faster than you think, and no one really gives a damn if your writing is Pulitzer-worthy.